Harvey County sheriff: Man wielded hunting knife when shot, killed by Newton police

08/15/2014 11:05 AM

08/16/2014 6:50 AM

Harvey County authorities say a man shot Thursday by a Newton police officer responding to a domestic violence help call was pronounced dead shortly after he was rushed to a local hospital.

Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said Friday that Sonny Wagner, 52, met the responding officer in the living room of his home, 2107 Singletree Drive, wielding a hunting knife with an 8- to 9-inch blade. He refused several commands to drop his weapon before police opened fire, Walton said. The officer, a 20-year veteran of Newton’s police force, shot twice after Wagner advanced toward him, Walton said. Both rounds struck Wagner’s chest.

“The officer repeatedly told Wagner to put the knife down,” Walton said during a news conference Friday morning at Newton’s law enforcement center, 120 E. Seventh St.

“Wagner raised the knife up and moved forward toward the officer” instead, he said, prompting the gunfire. Wagner “still had it in his hand when he went down,” Walton said.

Wagner died at Newton Medical Center between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Thursday, Walton said. A Harvey County dispatcher said Thursday that the shooting victim was not breathing when he was transported. The officer was not hurt, Walton said; Wagner’s wife was not hospitalized for her injuries.

Walton said the officer had arrived at the home, in Prairie Estates mobile home park, shortly after 911 received a call for help at 4:08 p.m. Thursday from Wagner’s 52-year-old wife, saying she had “been hit several times by her husband.”

Neighbor Pamela Nellans said Friday that she heard shouting coming from inside the Wagners’ tan and brown mobile home about 30 minutes before the first police car pulled up.

She called the Wagners “quiet people” who were friendly but mostly kept to themselves. They moved next door to Nellans about a year ago, she said; before, the couple lived across town, near her nephew.

Early on, Nellans said, “you’d never hear them arguing. It’s been only for about the last month.”

Earlier Thursday, Sonny Wagner visited Nellans, she said, to ask if her 13-year-old son could help him move a ping-pong table in the complex’s clubhouse so he could paint the basement floor.

“He went and did that and it wasn’t long before this happened,” said Nellans, an 18-year resident of Prairie Estates.

“They were nice people. … I mean they argue and stuff, but I never thought it would cross that line.”

Walton, the sheriff, said the Newton police officer who shot Wagner met his wife in the front yard of the home at 4:11 p.m. The officer proceeded inside, authorities said, and encountered Wagner in the living room. Other officers were en route to the home when the shooting occurred.

“As we understand it, he had stated when she was calling for police that he said, ‘They better bring more than one officer because I’m not going to jail again,’” Walton said. “And then he went into a back room to get this knife.”

“It was a very confined space,” he said. “I would say the distance between the officer and Sonny Wagner was less than 10 feet.” No one else was in the home at the time.

Nellans said that even though she lives next door, she didn’t hear the gunshots. A 20-year-old man who lives across the street, Devin Hensley, said flashing police lights and sirens caught his attention.

Law enforcement “had this entire street blocked off,” he said. “They were here until like midnight.”

Friday, the lot where the Wagners’ home sits remained cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape but the police presence was gone. A gray truck with a veteran’s tag and “Wagner Home Repair” stenciled on the tailgate sat in the driveway next to a red car.

Newton Police Chief Jim Daily said during Friday’s news conference that officers had responded to at least three domestic calls involving Wagner before Thursday’s shooting; not all were at the Singletree address. Wagner had been arrested on suspicion of criminal domestic battery and driving under the influence, Walton said.

Walton on Friday would not give the name of the officer who fired his weapon.

“This investigation continues and will continue,” he said. “And at this time it’s just not proper to release that officer’s name.”

Daily said the officer has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. He said that is standard procedure for the department.

The Harvey County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are conducting the investigation. Walton said the KBI on Thursday collected evidence at the home and planned to return Monday. The agency will then present its reports to Harvey County Attorney David Yoder’s office for review.

“All too often we find ourselves responding to calls for domestic violence where tragedy is the end result,” Daily said Friday.

“Yesterday was one such call.”

Walton and Daily said Friday that officer-involved shootings are rare in Newton and Harvey County. In 2005, a Harvey County deputy was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call, Walton said. Daily said the most recent fatal officer-involved shooting involving Newton police occurred in June 2007 at an address on West Broadway.

“Domestic violence is probably the top safety issue for everyone involved,” Walton said, “including officers, victims and the person involved, because it is so difficult to take care of.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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